It’s been fun just kicking back and relaxing in the tiny town of Berat but it’s time to move on and explore some more.
Even though I woke up at 8am this morning, I still took my sweet time getting out of Berat.
Truth be told, even though I didn’t really do anything while I was here, I really enjoyed my time here.
Something about a small town feel just feels right to me.
But, like I said, it was time to move on to my next city and on to new adventures…
Bus to Tirana
I finally left the hostel at 10:30 and caught a taxi to the bus station. The minibus going to Berat was less than half full so I had some time before we would be on our way.
I popped into the bus station just to snoop around and you wouldn’t believe what I found…
Gluten free chips! Yup, it says it right there on the bag!
It’s a gluten miracle!
At 11am our bus was loaded and we were outta there. Next stop, Tirana.
The bus ride itself was pretty uneventful. It wasn’t that uncomfortable but it also wasn’t comfortable if that makes any sense.
Two hours later we arrived in Tirana at the Regional South & North Bus Station. This was the same station I was at for brief moments earlier in the week when I caught my bus to Berat.
I had two options to get to my hostel – taxi or city bus.
The city bus only costs 40lek (60c) and I’m told the taxi would have cost 700lek ($10). To put that in context, my 2 hour bus ride from Berat was only 500lek ($8).
So, yeah, the taxi was expensive comparatively but when you look at it as a whole, it was still only 10 bucks.
I still went with the local bus option though simply because I didn’t know how I was going to communicate with the taxi driver where I wanted to go. It’s not like my hostel is some big known hotel brand or it’s near a definable landmark.
City bus it is…
A sweaty ride
Just as I exited the bus station, a city bus showed up unloading all its’ passengers. I overheard someone else ask the driver if it was going to the city center and he nodded yes.
Guess I’m taking this bus…
The bus left the bus station only half full and looking on my online maps, it looked like the bus drive would take about 40 minutes.
No worries, though. I had a seat to myself and plenty of leg room.
Then we went two stops and the bus just loaded up, like overflow loaded sardine like with people standing over each other.
And then the traffic moved at a snail’s pace…
It was soooo hot, I was sitting there just drenched in sweat and I was just watching the little arrow on my phone slowly inch closer and closer to the stop I had to get off at.
Finally, after 40 minutes in that sauna, I unloaded onto the streets of Tirana.
A 10 minute walk later and I was at my hostel and all checked in.
Find Me GF
I don’t often promote or link anything on this blog but I’m gonna highly promote a wonderful app for all the celiacs out there.
The app is called Find Me GF and it shows you places around your area that have been recommended by fellow celiacs. Some may be dedicated gluten free, some may have a gluten free menu, and others might just have gluten free options but all the information is gold.
It’s the way I mark out restaurants in new cities I visit.
You can download their app from their website or just find the app in the app store.
Anyway, I didn’t have much luck with the app in Berat as it’s a small town and there really wasn’t anything gluten free there.
But in Tirana?
Oh my God! It’s a treasure trove!
I found a handful of restaurants that offer everything from gluten free burgers, pizzas, and pastas to a dedicated gluten free bakery.
And the supermarket down the street has a gluten free aisle!
Gluten free lunch
One of the restaurants listed on my app was called Tony’s American Restaurant.
Now, normally, this would be the last place I would go for food. My goal is always to get authentic, traditional food from whatever country I’m visiting.
But they had gluten free burgers on their menu.
And, dammit, I was craving a big, greasy and juicy burger!
So, yup, in Tirana, my first meal was a burger at a place called Tony’s American Restaurant.
It was delicious, by the way and I couldn’t stop smiling.
I was genuinely so happy to be sitting there on the patio chomping on my ridiculous burger with 2 patties, bacon, cheese, mushrooms, and egg on a gluten free bun.
Gluten free snacks
On the way home from the restaurant I stopped in the Conrad grocery store a block away from my hostel.
Someone had marked it in the app as having an area with gluten free products and, sure enough, I walked in and to my immediate left was an area with the glorious words “senza glutine”.
I didn’t need Google Translate to tell me what that meant in English.
I was downright giddy as I perused all the products on the shelves.
I ended up getting some gluten free bread, and a couple of different types of cookies.
This day was turning out amazing!
Free walking tour
After a nice shower and change of clothes, I headed back out for a 6pm walking tour.
What a great time to start a walking tour!
The sun is setting and everything has cooled off.
I got to the meeting point and was shocked to see so many people waiting for the tour.
There were probably close to 100 people there and it was enough that we split into 3 different groups.
I chose the young looking guy cause I figured he’d be best since young college kids who do the tours usually give the best tours.
I was wrong this time.
Dude literally had us stand in a corner for 20 minutes to start the tour droning on and on about Albanian stuff.
And, I know, that’s the whole idea of a tour, is to learn about Albania, but he just wasn’t engaging at all.
It sounded like he was reading lines from a script he had memorized and, I don’t know, I just can’t describe it, he just didn’t have “it”.
I immediately regretted my choice of guide and actually debated just bailing on the tour and coming back tomorrow.
I went on though and about 30 minutes later we walked past one of the other groups and I just casually joined that one.
So much better!
Like I said, sometimes a guide just doesn’t have it but this one did. This new one was engaging in his story telling and we didn’t stay in one place overly long.
He also told some very eye opening stories about how communism affected his family, primarily his grandparents and parents.
All in all, a great tour once I found the right guide.
Gluten free dinner
Alright, dinner time!
I already knew what I was getting…
Gluten free pasta.
Yup, another non Albanian dish.
Honestly, I’ve had so many grilled meat dishes the last few days, it’s kind of nice to do something different even if it is pasta.
I walked to another restaurant I had marked on my map – Grand Panevino.
Turns out it’s a fancy restaurant attached to an upscale hotel.
I didn’t care. I just walked in anyway in my tshirt and shorts and asked for a table.
And in the menu, at the very back page, was their gluten free meals.
I ordered a glass of wine and the penne with veal ragu.
And then I waited.
Oh, here comes some food…
Oh, it’s going to the table of 6 who came in 10 minutes after me…
Finally, after 40 minutes, I asked the manager passing by if my meal was coming out soon.
He came back and said it wouldn’t be much longer.
It was another 20 minutes, a full hour since I ordered, when my pasta dish came out.
I won’t lie, I was pretty annoyed and a part of me just wanted to walk out minutes before the meal came. I was already thinking of the bad review I was going to leave on the gluten app.
And then something interesting happened…
The manager came by to apologize and told me my meal was on the house tonight.
I mean, back home in Canada, I would absolutely expect to have a meal comped if it took an hour, but here in Europe, in Eastern Europe?
Nope, no way, no how would I ever expect that. Hell, I was pretty impressed they even apologized.
Now, I wasn’t completely sure if he meant my food was taken care of or my entire bill so when I was done my meal, I asked for the bill.
My server then told me it was all on the house.
My dinner, my water, and my wine.
I was stunned.
This is a case example of how to turn a bad situation into a good one as I ended up writing a 5 star glowing review explaining what happened as opposed to the 1 star review I had planned to leave.
Coming from the service industry myself, it was interesting to see it play out from the customer perspective for once and, I gotta tell you, it made me feel good about the place and the service.
I ended up leaving a nice tip on my $0 bill and I was on my way into the late evening.
What a day!
So much gluten free happiness in my life today and a walking tour to boot!
I feel energized to get out there and explore again.
Let’s see what tomorrow brings…